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MOBILE-ONLY: The rise of a mobile planet

Vito MargiottaVito Margiotta

By 2020 two billion new users are going to come online for the first time in their lives.
67% of them will come from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
99% of this new users will do it from a mobile device, and for the vast majority of them the mobile is going to be the one and only gateway to the Internet. They will never use a physical keyboard; they will never own a PC; they are the true mobile power-users and they are hungry for mobile innovation.

It is a truly mobile only economy. It is a major paradigm shift that is just emerging. It is a gigantic opportunity.

“ It is a truly mobile only economy”

We are all aware of the incredible impact that the Internet brought to our lives, both on a personal and on a business level. Since the invention of the web in 1989 by the scientist Tim Berners-Lee all has changed. Companies went online, people social interaction went online, services went online, shopping went online, and the list goes on.
A new economy started and saw the desktop PC as the main distribution channel. The desktop planet of Europe and the desktop planet of United States proactively led this change with a huge amount of innovation. Silicon Valley became the aggregation point of it all, and tech entrepreneurs from these countries were able to build an entire new thriving ecosystem and made a fortune along the way.

Then the smartphone step in, and claimed and obtained a space in history. Armed with sensors and designed for extreme mobility, it opened a completely new field of innovation that revolves around contextuality and about offering personalized services based on the many specifics of a certain moment.
The concept of mobile moments is born: moments where the user is on the go and expects a personalized immediate and contextual solution to his current need. Apps and app stores are new strong players in this field and complement the less contextual web experience, but with a way more heavy focus on immediate mobile actions.

As a result of this shift, all the services that first went online are now going mobile, and an exponential rate of innovation is allowing users to solve better and faster their problems, in a self fulfilling cycle that is incrementing every everyday the value of mobile as a platform: the more we use it, the better it becomes, the more we like it and use it, and so on.

Despite this major paradigm shift happening everywhere on the planet, the impact and the specifics are very much different both on a generational level and probably most importantly at a geographic level.
We all live in a connected planet, but we belong to very different mobile planets: Africa is very different than Latin America, the US is definitely different than Asia, and alike.
Despite being all mobile users, differences are gigantic and vary greatly, touching topics as:

On a more macro view and at an aggregated level I believe all these differences cause the emergence of 3 different economies:

1. The desktop economy

Economies which were at the forefront of the desktop PC revolution. Characterized by users which heavily prefer the desktop experience over the mobile experience, especially for work related purposes. With a high purchasing power, and despite being also the first adopters of new technologies, the users of the desktop economy's use of mobile is heavily influenced by their preconceptions and past experience with a desktop PC.

2. The mobile-first economy

Economies where the mobile phone is predominant in both personal and business tasks, but the experience is most likely complemented by the use of a desktop PC (especially in business settings). These users have a middle purchasing power, they are savvy users, and consider mobile as an integral part of life and the desktop a 'nice to have but not life-changing' addition.

3. The mobile-only economy

Economies that completely leapfrog the desktop PC technology and moved directly to a more affordable and context relevant solution: mobile devices. Its users usually have a lower purchasing power than the users of the desktop economy and of the mobile-first economy, but they are incredibly skilled / savvy users of the mobile interfaces, they are first adopters of any new use of the mobile technologies, and consider mobile as the key and only player both for personal and business activities.

Map of desktop, mobile first and mobile only economies
(graphical approximation for explanatory purposes)

note: In the following posts I will elaborate more on each one of these economies and differences and, from time to time, will showcase the results of researches on different but connected factors as colors, types of use, common misconceptions, and more.

The rise of mobile is a gigantic paradigm shift which is already impacting us significantly and that is changing the way we live and work in a fundamental way.
Some economies are ahead in the adoption and use of mobile, and the emergence of significant differences among users and usage at a local and global level is making clear more than ever the need of studying and understanding this phenomenon. Building apps and web experiences must go beyond a unique global one-fits-all solution and transition toward an extremely localized and personalized experience, both in terms of UX and UI as well as in the way we think, define, and build mobile experiences.

It is a radical change in which companies need to operate, and understanding the specifics of the different mobile economies is key to success.

Common (mis)conception is that "mobile is mobile and it is the same everywhere". But is it? and is it the way that is meant to be? Which role is the under-represented and under-served mobile-only economy going to play in the near future? How is this going to impact the way in which we innovate? Is this innovation going to spur still out of Silicon Valley, or from Africa, Latin America, and Asia? How is global economic development going to impact the speed of growth of mobile only countries, and this in turn which impacts is going to create on the more old fashion desktop economies?

These are only few of the questions I believe we need to answer to have a better understanding of the phenomenon and to be able to leverage on this gigantic emerging opportunities, and in the next months I will do my best to answer them and share with you my learnings.

Mobile only economies are the next big frontier of mobile innovation and this transformation already started and is growing exponentially. So, let's get ready and be active part and lead this change. :)